Monday, October 06, 2014

Heads Up Publications and By Definition: Poems of Feelings

Why are you doing that?
No one else does it that way.
What’s the matter with you?

Creative people don’t like to be told what to do. We can be annoying. Distracted. Non-compliant. Misfits, who at our worst clog systems and at our best make up new and better systems.

So what is the choice? Creatives can either rebel and go places where no one else has been or fall in line and be unhappy.  Not that going your own way is a guarantee of happiness. Hardly.  It pretty much assures that you will be justifying your actions for the rest of your days, but the alternative is emotional and intellectual suicide.

Creatives don’t fit well in schools. At all. Schools put students in boxes based on how well kids can fill in boxes.  Creatives don’t like boxes unless they welded them together themselves, designed them in Photoshop, or turned a refrigerator box into a pyramid with a razor blade and duct tape and renamed it “box with a point.”

The successful creative kid learns to multitask early on. Hold her breath and make a quick pass at what is required before letting the mind go out to play. The less successful creative kid gets parked with the Welcome Back Kotteresque meatheads, a room that is harder to escape than a prison lockdown. Sitting for 12 years among The-Most-Likely-to-be-Incarcerated can be hard on a person’s sense of productive worth.

Go Back While There’s Still Time:

When I quit my job as a vice president of an ad agency to be a poet, turned in the paperwork for the company car, trashed my rolodex, and went out into the cold (it was actually a sunny, Indian summer September day), I remember the panic on the face of a co-worker, “You did what? Go back, there’s still time. Tell [the boss] you changed your mind. He’ll take you back. He’ll take you back.”

Part of me knew he was right. I was a single mom with a mortgage, two kids poised on the edge of the diving board ready to take the plunge into college and two dogs in need of kibble. But I just couldn’t hold my breath any longer. It was 1990, the last decade of the 20th century. I was running out of time, and I needed to breathe.

I started out self-published because education isn’t the only place that wants to put people into boxes. Publishers were looking for the next Shel Silverstein in the early nineties when I came along with my “I Hate My Body” poems for middle readers and there was no category for adolescent poetry in those days. Zero.

With the support of classroom teachers, I sold 43,000 books, and then at least one publisher was willing to talk. Boyds Mills Press. Grateful, I knew I should be compliant.  Only that’s not my nature and I had sacrificed a whole lot of security to be able to breathe. I quickly developed a reputation for being difficult to edit (I wore out three editors on the first book).  BMP and I have had a 25 year relationship and I continue to be forever grateful that they were willing to take a chance on me.

By Definition: Poems of Feelings (BMP) came out in 2004. In my mind, the art and the poetry in this book were a mismatch from the start.  I was writing for middle readers, the artist was drawing for primary kids.  Bad fit.  Last year, the book went of out print and the rights returned to me. 

I decided to repurpose the poems into a power point presentation for classroom use. 

Why are you doing that?
No one else does it that way.
What’s the matter with you?

Research based response:

Michael Salinger (my partner-in-rhyme) and I have been so jazzed about projecting poetry in classrooms, with everyone’s head up and ready for discussion.  No one is hunched over text, pretending to be reading, doodling, drooling or any of the things I used to do when asked to read in class. Projected text, particularly when it is combined with a fetching image, gets kids’ attention just long enough to engage. 

If you are looking for research to support this, this is the research:  We tried it about 600 times.  Projected poetry engages better than printed text. Try it, you’ll see.

So is born our idea of Heads UP publications.  These are not books that are conceived to be cradled in the arms and consumed alone. These are books designed to be projected and shared in a classroom situation, with a teacher leading the discussion.  We may even include a discussion starter question or two.

The next question we had to confront was, how do we best market a Heads UP publication?

Trade or Professional?

Teacher professional books are research based with the text divided between a few new ideas and citation after citation after citation of old ideas hand selected old ideas to support the new ideas. It’s a tedious process to write these books (been there) and (I fear) the audience for them has been dwindling, distracted by the PD offerings from YouTube, TedTalks and Twitter. Our product is what is called "classroom ready," or not research based. Teacher professional publishers are not equipped to market a product like ours (so we hear). Besides, poetry is a tough sell.

Trade books are books kids check out of the library. Trade publishers are still coming to grips with ebooks and have no conveyance method to sell books designed for projection.  They are busy trying to reformat texts so that that they are as close as possible to books with covers that can be held in the hands. Trade publishers are not equipped to market a product like ours (so we hear). They are too busy conceiving of increasingly obscurely themed poetry books (40 poems on tiddly winks? Anyone? Anyone?). Besides, poetry is a tough sell.

Every Poem is a Mini lesson:

Still, teachers are always looking for poetry and new ideas.  Every poem is a mini lesson.  Want a quick lesson on point of view, descriptive or figurative language? Poems are at your service.

“When heading off to a conference, I always dare to dream that I will be heading home somehow made new,” began a teacher in a recent email. And then she kindly added that our presentation of using words and images in the classroom had done just that for her.  Michael and I consider ourselves to be teaching artists, we spend a great number of days in the classroom each year, but don’t have to do the grades or the staff meetings.  It’s a good gig, we realize that. And we want to efficiently and economically give back to the people we most love to support. . . entrepreneurial and mostly financially strapped teachers. 

This had led us to the site: Teacher Pay Teachers to host our products.  We are in the process of converting some of our projectable lessons and Head UP publications to this site.  You can find us here: link.
Here are our first three offerings: All $6 or under (cheap).

1 comment:

Charles Waters said...

Oh my goodness Sara, I LOVED this post. It did me a world of good. Thank good for you and Michael. These mini-lesson plans are a great idea. I love how they've been tested over 600 times. No one can argue with numbers like that. (Well, they could but they'd be wrong.)